Updated: December 16, 2013 6:24AM
An air of unreality has always shrouded Obamacare. And President Barack Obama only enhanced that flight from the real world on Thursday when he told the insurance industry, well, never mind.
At the eleventh hour, Obama asked health-care insurers to abandon the work they’ve done for three years to be ready to comply with the Affordable Care Act and to go back to issuing policies that the president and his allies have repeatedly condemned as a ripoff of consumers.
Insurance is a complex business, further complicated by having to have its products past muster by state governments with different rules and requirements. It can’t turn on a dime. Insurers and state regulators can be forgiven for suspecting that Obama is trying to transfer to them the responsibility for the failure of his promise that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it. If the insurers don’t take up Obama’s offer, and regulators don’t approve it, Democrats will paint them as the villains for millions of Americans losing their policies and being forced to buy more expensive coverage.
Still, for consumers, what does the about-face do but postpone the pain until next year? Come fall of 2014, the cancellations would occur again. And the pain then might be worse since Obama’s directive undermines a fundamental plank of Obamacare — that the exchanges must sign up enough young people to keep premiums down. With the young keeping their current policies or not buying any insurance, the market will swell with sick and older people. That means premiums go up for everyone.
What’s more, another wave of cancellations might be coming that extends beyond the individual market where today’s political crisis is rooted. An analysis by McClatchy newspapers says up to 41 million Americans could find their employer-provided insurance out of compliance with Obamacare mandates.
Here’s the problem Obama faces: These cancellations were always going to happen. The unreal expectation that the law’s supporters foisted on America was that insurance could be extended to 40 million people and millions more could have policies upgraded with goodies like free doctor visits at no or minimal cost.
Buttressing this subterfuge were a number of ways to pay for the law sold as pain-free. One was a tax on medical devices. Turns out it’s a job killer, and Democrats in states where these life-saving and life-enhancing products are made are clamoring for repeal. Another way to pay for Obamacare was to cut Medicare, but since these cuts often are aimed at doctors and other providers, they’re always rescinded. Then there was the allure of subsidies to buy insurance. But they don’t go to everyone, and someone has to pay for them. Another tactic was that old Obama standby: taxes aimed at the wealthy.
Middle class Americans, even those who like Obama’s ideas of taxing the rich, suddenly saw that a massive expansion of health insurance couldn’t be paid for by only taxing the other guy. Obama and Democrats who drone on and on about the 1 percent were suddenly seen sticking it to the middle class.
Not a pretty picture. Then again reality rarely is when it upsets fantasies like those sold to pass Obamacare.